May 17, 2017

Climate change might explain trees moving north.

But why are they moving west?

54 comments:

JohnAnnArbor said...

I read about that in Macbeth.

Rick Turley said...

"Go West, young tree."

Horace Greenleaf

Paddy O said...

The Ents are going to war.

Rick Turley said...

Maybe they are also trying to run away from the gypsy moths. The story of the chestnut blight is a depressing story, devastating the dominant hardwood tree of the NA deciduous forests in just several decades.

Also see emerald ash borer, Dutch elm disease, hemlock woolly adelgid......

stever said...

Even though the study "raises more questions than we have answers for", the conclusion is nonetheless, that this is the result of "human-caused" climate change.

So once again this is not really science, just data gathering to support an already arrived at answer. "We can't be sure, but we are."

n.n said...

Perhaps the answer is in discerning anthropogenic and natural climate change.

James K said...

As best as I can tell, there is nothing that "climate change" can't explain.

Original Mike said...

Years ago a read a paper in Science who's content I've forgotten but the title has stuck with me: "How fast can trees migrate?".

Earnest Prole said...

Meh. Precipitation and ground moisture are far more important for plant culture than slight changes in temperature, as any person with a bit of gardening experience knows.

Darrell said...

I'd want to get away from East Coast assholes, too.

buwaya puti said...

Stever is right.
The study cannot extract the "climate signal" from other factors, especially land use. And the changes in rainfall that they cite as a global warming effect are also speculative, as there is no longer term history of changes in rainfall patterns to tie to global warming.
This is true all over, to be seen in CA where there is reasonably good proxy data on rainfall. More or less rainfall (including the famous century-droughts) does not seem to track global temperature reconstructions.

Rick Turley said...

And remember the Indians/Native Americans/First Peoples deliberately set fires to manage the prairies, including to stimulate the growth of grasses instead of trees and shrubs.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Blah blah blah blah...human caused climate change...blah blah blah.

Earnest Prole said...

Related: Climate change expert: Global warming did not kill Seattle tree

madAsHell said...

The population center of trees is moving west because the trees in the east are being cleared for houses, parking lots, and big box stores. If they collected data here in western Washington, then they might see that the trees are moving east!!

This is really no different than the Fallon story from earlier today. We see a fact, and then we weave narrative around that gives us the agenda we want to promote. It's mental masturbation. Do we have a fake science tag?

Carter Wood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carter Wood said...

To grow up with the country.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Run, forest, run!

Mark Nielsen said...


exhelodvr1 FTW!

Mark Jones said...

"Run, forest, run!"

Thread winner right there.

Original Mike said...

LOL

Carter Wood said...

Perhaps it's finally The Day of the Triffids.

Gospace said...

Makes you wonder why the commercial growing of citrus has been steadily marching south in Florida. Georgia used to be a major growing area. Turns out cold is bad for citrus.

mockturtle said...

I don't blame them one bit. But I don't like it when one suddenly crosses behind me when I'm backing up my truck.

Clyde said...

There seems to be some scientific hubris here, with the scientists wanting to tell us that they not only know exactly how many trees and of what kind are at every location in the country now, but also historically as well. These are the same scientists that want to tell us that they know exactly what the temperatures are in every location and how those compare to historical standards as well. I'm skeptical. They may have a lot of data points, but I suspect that a lot of their data is interpolated, fudged and guessed at. I would suspect that there are probably more locations that they don't have exact information on than the ones that they do.

Mitch H. said...

Talk about motivated reasoning... start from a conclusion, then try to beat a premise out of the intermediary data.

Why would populations of trees be displacing westward? Maybe a secular rebound of foliage into areas that have been kept trimmed back by human habitation since the last glacial? First the various Indian cultures - including the Mound-builders - then the European settlement. Now, we perhaps have loosened up in some regions on the continuous removal of saplings and allowing the establishment of non-commercial woodlots. It could be, quite literally, an anthropomorphic effect, ironically enough.

AJ Lynch said...

I will believe in climate change when alligators move north.

The Godfather said...

Does anyone know (or know where I could find) information about temperature changes in the eastern US in the last 30 years? I've lived in the eastern US for over 70 years, and although some years are warmer and some years are colder (and wetter and drier, etc.) I have not been conscious of a perceptible change in temperature over that period. I hypothesize that the warming has been too small for an ordinary human being to detect it, and so I wonder whether an ordinary elm tree could detect it.

Achilles said...

Darrell said...
I'd want to get away from East Coast assholes, too.

I am out by the west coast. Moving this way wont solve their problem...

Achilles said...

exhelodrvr1 said...
Run, forest, run!

respect

Yancey Ward said...

Buffalo.

If I had to wager one guess as to why trees are moving west across North America, it would be that the plains no longer have tens of millions of buffalo, and haven't had them for more than a century, or the humans that depended on them. In addition, the area is longer undergoing the settlement of farmers either, and is, in general losing population. It is hard to come up with another explanation for why the Great Plains were grasslands- the climate is perfectly amenable to different species of trees, after all. It is human influence, alright, but not of the carbon dioxide kind.

Yancey Ward said...

Rick Turley wrote:

"And remember the Indians/Native Americans/First Peoples deliberately set fires to manage the prairies, including to stimulate the growth of grasses instead of trees and shrubs."

I was unaware of this, but this goes right along with my buffalo thesis.

Michael K said...

The other factor that is ignored but is related to humans is forest management which has crewed up forest ecology so bad it cannot be undone. Forests, which burned every 20 or 30 years are now kept from fires until the fuel load is so high that a huge fire capable of killing giant sequoias results. The mountains of southern California have so many trees that the moisture is not enough for all of them. Of course logging, which would cure the overpopulation, is not allowed. The forest service does not even allow logging of dead trees in national forests.

The Park Service and Forest Services are run by fools.

The White Mountains of Arizona were "protected" from fires until a huge fire several years ago burned the heavy fuel load and killed a whole crew of 19 firefighters.

Michael K said...

Screwed up forest management.....

rhhardin said...

That was the Killer Trees in News of the World, that came out in the killer bees panic.

These were walking trees that escaped from a lab in Brazil and were working their way north.

They're slow-moving but still a threat to toddlers and the elderly.

Curious George said...

"exhelodrvr1 said...
Run, forest, run!"

Why I love the internet.

Bad Lieutenant said...


Screwed up forest management.....


So true. I wish Trump may find some bandwidth for that, or is it Congressional?

Lucien said...

Maybe the growth of forests will change the climate.

Graham Powell said...

The trees want to start a new life in California.

Virtually Unknown said...

This is not a modeling exercise, there are no predictions, this is empirical data,

It's almost as if they don't think that running computer programs and examining the results is actual "science...."

I am sure a swift punishment for such lack of faith will follow on soon.

Virtually Unknown said...

Honorable mention to the MacBeth reference.

Rick Turley said...

Yancey Ward -

"How did Native Americans use fire?

According to Williams (2000) Native Americans used fire for the following reasons:

"...Growing Food. Fire was used to clear areas for growing food; prevent fields from growing back to shrubs and trees while they were fallow; increase the yield of berries such as strawberries, raspberries, huckleberries; and clear areas under oak trees to make the gathering of acorns easier....."

https://www.na.fs.fed.us/fire_poster/nativeamer.htm

When I lived in Chicago the term "forest preserve" irritated me to no end. There were no forests to preserve. Once you got past the marshes the land turned into oak savanna (see above). If you look closely you can still see some of the old oaks through all the box elders and buckthorns. Sad... if you know what you're looking at.

Danno said...

Blogger Darrell said...I'd want to get away from East Coast assholes, too.


Judging from the map, it looks like they are converging on Wisconsin.

Gospace said...

The NY State Constitution adopted in 1938 has the following provision in Article XIV: Section 1. The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. In 1938 all those forest lands were an incredible mix of mixed hardwoods. That's what they thought at the time was a natural wild condition, and that's how the writers thought the forests would remain if left alone.

The lands were mixed hardwood because the early colonists cut down all the pines. Allowing the hardwoods to take root and thrive. So the forests weren't really wild, they had been altered by man. And, I read an article last year analyzing the forests. They're slowly turning into a monoculture of ash, which is undesirable for many reasons.

Mixed hardwoods anywhere are pretty much a result of human intervention somewhere along the line.

If we actually did what the people of 1938 wanted as a result of that forever wild provision, we would be managing the forests in such a manner to keep a healthy mix of mixed hardwoods. But no, the words there are inflexible, unlike the rest of the Constitution which can say whatever a judge likes at the moment, so NY State is going to end up with forest preserve of a monoculture of ash, followed by God knows what, because the ecologists studying it don't. Me? I want mixed hardwoods. Which would require management to keep the forests "forever wild" in that condition.

I posted this in the wrong conversation a bit earlier.

Bruce Hayden said...

@Dr K - back up in MT now, and last summer we had the biggest fire here since around 1900. It ran 10 miles in one night, and took another month to get it under control. 20 years ago, there were 3 lumber companies in town, and twice that in the county. Now there is one in town, and one other in the county. County is surrounded on all sides by Forest Service land, which is where the timber used to come from. The entire Nortwest has been burning the last couple years, and the termination of timbering (and consequent buildup of fuel) is a big part of the cause. We get smoke from as far away as the Cascades, as well as from E WA and NW ID, and the air quality in August and Sept. the last several years has been problematic. (Funny thing about that fire last year was that we were west of it by maybe 10 miles, its smoke was blowing east, but the air in town was in the unhealthy range - due to all the fires further west).

gadfly said...

Shade trees for the new residents of the desert southwest where mulberry trees are ruining Albuquerque and where allergy sufferers have to pick up and move again. Then there are the trees and lawns creating water shortages big time.

As for the northern expansion, Wisconsin's sandy soil is great for quick-growing poplar and pine used in tree farms to supply the paper manufacturing industry. Then there is the ongoing effort in Detroit to make block after block of abandoned homes into large hardwood tree farms.

The environmentalists wanted more trees and now they have them - damn that life-giving carbon dioxide! But none of this has to do with climate change because the sun is providing more warmth and there is nothing we can do except to put on more sun screen lotion.

Dude1394 said...

Don't worry, they will create a few more hundred models and pick the one that explains the move west. But it will not predict anything else.

stlcdr said...

Last I read - in a scientific journal regarding deforestation of third world countries - is that the forest coverage of the US has been expanding for years.

If you increase the population to the West, making no other changes, then the population center will move. I did not see in this 'report' that the trees were dying/being lost in any great numbers to the east. (I suspect, as noted above, that they are being cleared for human development).

The report also states as fact that climate change is caused by man. Right there you have to take whatever is said as, in the least, bias or a flat out failure to adhere to any scientific principles.

Virtually Unknown said...

Since when do they need a scientifically plausible reason to blame it on climate change?

organistsdoitwithpedals said...

“If you have a group of friends, and people move away to different places—some go to college in different places, and some move to Florida—the group is … probably going to fall apart,” Fei said. “We’re interested in whether this tree community is falling apart.”

Now, this is science. I had no idea trees all went to brunch--or branch? ;-) --once a month to catch up with what's new in each other's lives. Obviously if their friends are moving away, the tree community will disintegrate. Who will they go to spin class with? They'll have to make new tree friends! Ugh, what a pain.

Dreaderick said...

In Wisconsin they move west because Minnesota sucks.... or so says my 12-year old.

Bruce Hayden said...

I would take this, to some extent, as refutation that Climate Change (whatever the heck that means) and CAGW are more likely good things, not the bad ones as we are currently being told. One of the constant refrains is about how many people are going to drown or die of starvation as their food supply drowns, or whatever excuse they give. But, I suspect that the reality is that a warming climate would, ultimately, open up wide swaths of Siberia, Canada, and maybe even, if we got lucky, Alaska, to farming. And these trees pushing north may be a suggestion of just that, that a warmer climate ultimately means more arable land that can be farmed. Which means that the best solution to worldwide hunger is probably the line by the sage Palin: "Drill baby, drill".

GRW3 said...

I understand that during the Medieval Warm Period, from ~800-1000 when it was much warmer than now, the desert southwest was verdant. That was the driving force of the Anastasi civilization and, as I understand, the reason for the fall of the Mayan civilization due to drought.

Leaving out the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, when the English Channel froze, from the climate data is one of the ways the hockey stick is called into question.

mandrewa said...



There's an possible explanation that just jumped out at me as I thought about this that I'm surprised not to see in the article.

Geologically speaking, from the perspective of tens of millions of years, carbon dioxide levels are low, very low. Even given that CO2 concentration has approximately doubled in the last hundred years, it is still low. If we ignore recent human contributions and look at the last few million years, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is the lowest the earth has ever seen (as far as we know).

Now for plants CO2 is an essential nutrient. They don't eat things and this the only way they can get carbon to build the molecules that they consist of. And furthermore most of the plants we see, including I suspect almost all the trees, originally evolved at a time when CO2 levels were far higher than they are today.

Now how did these plants evolve to adapt to dropping CO2 levels? Now I believe I read somewhere that part of the adaptation, part of the way that they extract CO2 from the air at these low concentrations, has depended on increasing evapotranspiration. That is a significant part of the water demand of plants isn't about getting water for itself, but part of a mechanism to extract CO2 from the air.

Now for many environments, water is a limiting nutrient. That is a shortage of it is what prevents many species from thriving. But doubling CO2 lowers the demand for water because the higher concentration means it's easier to extract from the air and less water is needed to get the CO2 the plant needs.

So even if there is no increase in precipitation, increasing CO2 lowers the demand for water from plants and increases the range of environments in which they can grow. And this is probably especially true for trees.